New course shows bigger picture of the food system

Published on
July 17, 2018

How to approach food system innovation, what to consider, and how to evaluate the desired outcomes. This is the core of the new course Food Systems for Healthy and Sustainable Diets. “The food system is like a jigsaw puzzle. In my work I used to see only one piece, here I got to see the rest,” a participant of the first edition explains.

The Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation and the Division Human Nutrition and Health of Wageningen University & Research have developed the first course that explores food systems from a dietary perspective. It discusses which components are related to the gap between desired diet and the current diet, for different population groups and levels (national, regional and global). Next, it discusses the innovative actions that could be taken to diminish the dietary gap – meaning transforming the food system – and how these actions can be leveraged in a sustainable way.

Learn from different perspectives

Among the first participants of the new course in June was a German programme funding manager, Jakob P. Braun. He works in Ethiopia for a UK-based charity helping Ethiopian families and orphans grow enough food to eat, sell their produce and develop small businesses that last. “We increasingly focus on nutrition in our projects and want to develop a wider perspective and monitoring tools. The presented methodology was interesting, it was a nice mixture of group work and lectures, and also a balanced, diverse group of professionals and Master’s students. Having different backgrounds made it also easier to look at the cases from different perspectives.”

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Get an overview

“The most important thing this course has brought me, is an overview,” continues Braun. “An overview of the pieces of the puzzle you can call the food system. In my work I focus on one piece only, unaware of the other pieces. Here I got the bigger picture. I’m going to incorporate this knowledge in my work to have more impact.”

Ogechi Chinyere Nzeagwu, associate professor at the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umuahia, Nigeria, also mentioned as most important the realization of the wider environment the food system actually is. She also appreciated the group work with the Master’s students. “Because of them, I learned the value of visualising the message. I will definitely incorporate this in my tuition upon my return.”

Group interaction

Among the Master’s students were Denise Leenders and Johanne Steketee, Health and Nutrition students of Wageningen University & Research. They appreciated the high level of group interaction and the intercultural group. “And we now know all about systems thinking,” Leenders states, referring to the process of understanding how different components in a system influence one another and how the system itself is influenced by its context.

Steketee adds: “During our Bachelor studies, we never looked at the other drivers in the food system, just one part and how to change that. But I now clearly realise it takes more than just that part to have an impact. You have to work on the larger unit.”

Science-based practical knowledge

Diane Bosch of Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation is part of the team that developed the new course ‘Food Systems for Healthy and Sustainable Diets’ and also course director. The course serves professionals as well as Master’s students. Bosch: “The past few years, more evidence has come up showing the problems of insufficiently nutritious diets, undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition. We have translated the latest scientific findings on how to change food systems into practice, to learn professionals and students how to use the findings; how to address food systems change, what to consider, and how to monitor developments.”

Effectively influence the food system

The learning process starts from the desired end: what should the food system deliver. “Then we look in retrospect: what is necessary to get there, how to effectively influence the food system to sustainably innovate it,” Bosch explains. By doing so, participants learn about stakeholder and situational analysis, the dietary gap and theories of change.

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In groups, the participants started with looking at what was lacking in the daily diet of women in a reproductive age in a town or rural area in a country. This had to be expressed in foods: what should be on the table for a nutritious meal. Next they had to develop ideas on how to improve for example the availability, at an affordable price, and wanted by women.

Current food systems have deficiencies

The food system definition used in the course is that of the High Level Panel of Experts on food security and nutrition of the FAO. It states that food systems entails all actors, elements and activities that relate to primary producing, processing, distributing, preparing and consuming food, the related waste disposal, and the socio-economic and environmental outcomes of these activities. Present food systems do not ensure nutritious diets. This is worldwide reflected in the high levels of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition.

To sustainably address this societal challenge, food systems need to be transformed and move from delivering sufficient food to providing sufficient high quality diets for all. This means balancing nutrition with social and economic sustainability outcomes.

About the course

  • Staff of governmental and non-governmental organisations in the following positions:

    • policy and planning staff at the national and sub-national level with responsibility for promoting community and household food and nutrition security within different sectors (e.g. agriculture, education, health, community development, local government, planning);
    • staff working at coordination level in planning, management and management of multi-sectoral food security and nutrition programs at different levels;
    • staff working in (action-oriented) agriculture, nutrition and/or health related research, advisory and teaching positions directly relevant to food and nutrition security;
  • MSc/PhD students and post-docs of Wageningen University & Research.

Get new insights into:

  • The components of food systems and their relevance for provision of healthy and sustainable diets over time at national, regional and global level;
  • The stakeholders involved and influencing food systems;
  • Possible actions for food systems innovations to ensure nutritious diets;
  • Linking with policy makers, and advocacy for policy actions for healthy and sustainable diets.

Next edition: June 2019